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Szajnberg, N. (2008). Protecting the Self: Defense Mechanisms in Action by Phebe Cramer Guilford Press, New York, 2006; 384 pp; $45. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 89(1):202-204.

(2008). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 89(1):202-204

Protecting the Self: Defense Mechanisms in Action by Phebe Cramer Guilford Press, New York, 2006; 384 pp; $45

Review by:
Nathan Szajnberg

Protecting the Self: Defense Mechanisms in Action summarizes a lifetime of research on defense mechanisms. This book will be one in a series of conceptual milestones on defenses including Anna Freud's Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936) and Vaillant's Ego Mechanisms of Defense (1992). Cramer marks the growth of our knowledge about the way defenses develop and work. She updates our understanding of some defenses, their development and functions, and offers various research measures to assess defense mechanisms. In addition, she shows how treatment outcome can be measured in terms of defense maturation.

Cramer has studied three defenses extensively: denial, projection and identification. Observing that these three defenses have generally been seen as occupying a range of positions along the axis of maturity, with denial at the immature end and identification at the mature end, she hypothesized that we should be able to document this sequence developmentally in children and adolescents; that is, in the course of development, denial should make its appearance first, then projection, and then identification. Cramer's research has confirmed this, in itself a profound contribution.

Cramer has also explored the presence and frequency of the same three defenses in outpatients and inpatients, and their correlation with the severity of psycho-pathology. Again she confirms the predominance of less mature defenses in more severe psychopathology, and more mature defenses in less severe psychopathology, with some important exceptions in the case of identification, a more complex mental phenomenon.

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